He said/she said: 'Alcatraz'
January 17th, 2012
06:27 PM ET

He said/she said: 'Alcatraz'

Editor's note: The following is an e-mail conversation between CNN Geek Out's Elizabeth Landau and Henry Hanks. If you didn't watch Monday night's season premiere of "Alcatraz," another supernatural mystery show by nerd icon J.J. Abrams ("Star Trek," "Lost," "Fringe") don't read any further. Due to the involvement of Abrams, the cast, and the concept – which deals in both science and historical fiction – this has been a much-anticipated show by fans of both genres. Landau began by responding to Hanks' recap on CNN's Marquee Blog, which you can read here.

Landau: I had high hopes for “Alcatraz,” expecting the genius of a J.J. Abrams production and Jorge Garcia’s acting to be injected into this show. And it does have a lot of potential. I like the idea that the prisoners have suddenly shown up in San Francisco and we don’t know why. I think the most interesting character so far is actually Emerson Hauser, played by Sam Neill of “Jurassic Park” and "Merlin" fame, and I agree that he doesn’t get enough screen time. I want to know more of his back story. He obviously has knowledge that he’s not sharing, and so holds the key to uncovering why these prisoners are suddenly turning up.

But when I realized that this is going to turn into an “inmate of the week” drama, I became less interested. On “Lost,” since it dealt with a bunch of travelers trapped on an island, it felt like there was a lot more at stake for everyone involved, and it was more interesting to delve into their pasts. We get a little of that here but not enough. Detective Madsen has a personal interest in this investigation because her grandfather was one of the prisoners, but I just don’t feel enough genuine passion from her to care that much. And Garcia’s character Dr. Soto – what’s really in it for him? I feel like he needs more of a reason to care, too. Since we know him from "Lost," we want him to be comic relief but it doesn’t seem like his lines were written in quite the right way to let him shine.

Honestly I was getting pretty bored with the second episode – it dragged along as the detectives chase Ernest Cobb and he goes around killing people. But at the end of the second episode we get that big reveal that Lucy was Cobb’s doctor decades earlier, which makes it more interesting that he shot her specifically. I thought to myself “oh, wait, so this episode was important in the grand scheme of the show.” But I felt like I had to go through nearly an hour of “meh” to get to the “oh, cool” moment.

I am curious to see where this show goes but it was definitely not as stellar as the first two episodes of “Lost.” And unlike the pilot of “Once Upon a Time,” which got me feeling like I just had to know what’s driving this alternative world in which fairy-tale characters are stuck, I’m not itching to know what’s going on with these time-inconsistent inmates. But perhaps, as with “Lost,” Abrams has some major tricks up his sleeve that will wow us later.

Hanks: I will agree that if it simply becomes an “inmate of the week” show, that won’t be the most exciting thing (and perhaps Fox wants it to be that way, to bring in new viewers easier).

Continuing my earlier comparison to “Fringe,” though, I will say it has evolved from being the “freaky incident of the week” to going deeper into the mythology. On the other hand, it is virtually impossible for new viewers to start watching, four seasons in.

I hope that “Alcatraz” can find a healthy medium between the two, and Abrams has enough goodwill so far, that I am willing to give the show a full season to see if they can pull it off.

(And as far as “Doc’s” reason for caring, Jorge Garcia hinted to us that we will find out more about this in next week’s episode.)

Landau: These days it seems like the shows that hook you in the most are the shows for which it is essential to watch them from the beginning, and that do not pander to the audience that is just tuning in mid-season. In “Lost,” for example, you really could not just jump in after the first few episodes; nothing would make sense. My current philosophy is that a show needs to be so compelling that you want to go back and watch all of the episodes that you’ve missed, so that it all does come together – that’s what make cult classics, the kind that make people sit for hours or days on end to find out what happens next (i.e. the "BSG" episode of "Portlandia").

So, my hope for "Alcatraz" is that it too develops a deep and complex mythology, one that will have people on the edges of their seats wondering what’s going on and aching for more.

Let’s see what the rest of the season brings!

Do you agree with Landau or Hanks? Post your comment below.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8IO4zIBU09U&w=560&h=315%5D

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  1. Richard Horodyski

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    April 24, 2013 at 4:47 pm |
  3. dash_bannon

    The main character is Detective Madsen (Sarah Jones). The show will survive depending on how compelling her character and story arc are. The first two episodes left me feeling, "meh... but it has potential." I think the show would have worked better if they stayed with the current timeline and prisoners from the past start popping up, or if the show was set in the 60s. The flashbacks and flashforwards remove dramatic appeal. The show needs more mystery to make it hook.

    Also, I know we live in a more compassionate, politically correct time, but there's no way you would see a young Indian woman as a doctor in 1960. It's because of that kind of discrimination that civil rights movements happened in the 60s.

    I don't think this show will last more than several episodes.

    January 21, 2012 at 10:41 am |
  4. James

    If we learned anything from Lost, it's that he has no tricks up his sleeve. Speaking as a nerd, Star Trek, Lost, and Fringe were all fails, and Abrams is more of a cautionary tale than an icon, whose skill at convolution has been mistaken for genius. This is just one more show doomed to blow it's own internal consistency test and fade away without so much as a yawn.

    January 18, 2012 at 6:01 pm |
    • injusticeRob

      I love Star Trek, but not so much after JJ put his hands on it. The casting was excellent, but the plot.

      January 18, 2012 at 6:24 pm |
      • KHadjatou

        Missed the show but reviews I have read on CNN and in the New York Times reavel that Perry went after Romney and everybody pounced on Mr. 9-9-9! Any one watch?

        July 3, 2012 at 3:20 am |
  5. Bill

    Lost all credibilty in the first episode when the female "detective" finds a shell casing (carelessly left by the supposedly experienced sniper), picks it up, contaminating it with her fingerprints, hands it to her partner who palms it, further contaminating the evidence. And yes, shell casings have been known to have the suspect's fingerprints on them. Also in the opening scene when the convict is first brought into Alcatraz and the cat-calls from other convicts: Alcatraz was under a "rule of silence" and any breach of the rules meant time in segregation or worse. Poorly researched and poorly written.

    January 18, 2012 at 4:10 pm |
    • injusticeRob

      Yeah, the opening scene where the two guards on the dock come across a "quiet" Alcatraz. If they were guards of any sense besides TV land they would've immediately notified their superiors. You don't walk into a high-security prison without directives. Similar to walking into a nuclear plant when all the sirens and lights are blaring. They also let prisoner Slyvane into the new underground prison facility and his cell with a belt on. Don't think so.

      January 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm |
      • Mariana

        I tried Circuits (on a Linode 360 running Linux 2.6) bescaue its component architecture looked interesting and the example code was clean.$ sysctl net.core.somaxconn net.core.netdev_max_backlog net.core.somaxconn = 250000 net.core.netdev_max_backlog = 2500$ cat /proc/sys/fs/file-max 1001000$ ulimit -n 1001000I changed port to 10000 in Circuits example code to match your httperf command-line.I also followed the instructions for installing a custom httperf. Be careful to use the proper httperf if you already had it installed (e.g. by default it installs to /usr/local/bin/).I also made sure that Circuits was using epoll:PongServer((‘localhost’, 10000), poller=EPoll, backlog=500).run()$ httperf –hog –timeout=60 –client=0/1 –server=localhost –port=10000 –uri=/ –rate=400 –send-buffer=4096 –recv-buffer=16384 –num-conns=40000 –num-calls=1httperf: warning: open file limit > FD_SETSIZE; limiting max. # of open files to FD_SETSIZEMaximum connect burst length: 3Total: connections 40000 requests 33288 replies 33216 test-duration 204.995 sConnection rate: 195.1 conn/s (5.1 ms/conn, <=16450 concurrent connections) Connection time [ms]: min 0.1 avg 12921.3 max 45608.6 median 0.5 stddev 20278.0 Connection time [ms]: connect 12973.1 Connection length [replies/conn]: 1.000Request rate: 162.4 req/s (6.2 ms/req) Request size [B]: 62.0Reply rate [replies/s]: min 0.0 avg 162.0 max 400.0 stddev 195.6 (41 samples) Reply time [ms]: response 16.2 transfer 0.0 Reply size [B]: header 38.0 content 5.0 footer 0.0 (total 43.0) Reply status: 1xx=0 2xx=33216 3xx=0 4xx=0 5xx=0CPU time [s]: user 37.28 system 167.49 (user 18.2% system 81.7% total 99.9%) Net I/O: 16.6 KB/s (0.1*10^6 bps)Errors: total 6784 client-timo 6784 socket-timo 0 connrefused 0 connreset 0 Errors: fd-unavail 0 addrunavail 0 ftab-full 0 other 0No errors (all 2xx).

        August 5, 2012 at 12:33 am |
    • James

      This. Lots.

      January 18, 2012 at 6:02 pm |
    • Jorge

      You know what they say about men with large cars, what does it say about men with very small cars, perhaps this is sotmnhieg for psychologists.One thing I cant stand though in your theme, small print. At my age I need a Loupe.

      June 30, 2012 at 6:45 pm |
  6. miller

    points to consider:
    grandfather one of the first to come back? Not a killer?
    Sylvane's money and keys in his coat pocket after his return?
    His muderous quest for the master key?
    The 50 year old master key in safe?
    Bend-it-like-beckham doctor's time travel?
    The guards went missing too?
    You heard it here first – these inmates and guards are The Watchers.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:40 pm |
  7. John Pollard

    As soon as I saw this show was on Fox I turned it off since they've dropped so many excellent SyFy shows before their time in the past such as Sarah Connor, and Firefly. Better not to like it and then have it disappear due to moron executives.

    January 18, 2012 at 1:31 pm |
    • Mike

      Ratings determine if a show stays on – not "idiotic" management. Sure when the ratings are borderline decisions are made but in general it is pretty cut and dry. There is a reason firefly has not made it back on the air on a side network. There is a Sarah Connor was cancelled – besides the bad acting it just didn't have enough viewers.......

      January 18, 2012 at 4:09 pm |
      • dash_bannon


        Sometimes shows are put on in time slots that are intended to kill a show. Science fiction shows tend to be put on Friday nights, or other time slots, when the target demographic won't be watching them. You can then argue those shows have low ratings, and then justify taking them off the air.

        Some shows need a season or two to really improve: Star Trek the Next Generation and The X-Files, are two examples. Other shows gain popularity over time because few people watched them when they were on the air, like Firefly. I guarantee if Whedon coudl bring that show back from the dead, it would get ratings.

        If Fox wanted a science fiction show to survive, they'd air it on Sunday nights at 9. That was The X-Files time slot.

        So, sometimes executives kill shows simply because they don't like them. The people who run the SyFy network hate science fiction. Imagine if they put someone who loved science fiction in charge of it. Just sayin'.

        January 21, 2012 at 11:03 am |
  8. doylecoy

    I thought the female detective lacked credibility. Unlike, say, Maria Bello, she was out of her depth. Sam Neil, on the other hand, brought a fleshing out of the character that made you want more. Bring in say, Ellen Barkin. Also, the Jack Sylvane character seemed like someone you'd want to follow. I am curious, especially since I DID NOT watch LOST, but won't stick around long if Alcatraz doesn't shake off the shallows.

    January 18, 2012 at 12:47 pm |
  9. Rhbth Mom

    I'm confused since my Directv only just showed the pilot episode this past Monday (1/16), and lists episode 2 as Kitt Nelson (not airing until 1/23) and episode 3 as Ernest Cobb (not airing until 1/28) So I'm wondering what everyone else watched? LOL

    January 18, 2012 at 11:58 am |
    • JamesT

      My Time Warner cable had it as a 2 hour show but the description said it was the pilot episode but only had a description of the Ernest Cobb portion. The first hour was definately the pilot since it included the death of Madsen's partner and the series set up. This wasn't a true 2 hour premier episdode but 2 episodes shown back to back. Doesn't look like the guides picked that up and listed it as a single episode.
      On a side note, there was an episode of The Closer the other day that was listed as the Pilot and was definately the Kyra Sedgwick drama but the description was about the 1998 Tom Selleck sit-com.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:53 pm |
  10. Z

    I thought the 2nd episode was far superior to the pilot. As a Fringe fan I enjoy the serialization of it but I can understand and appreciate why Alcatraz is leaning heavier on the 'case of the week' as Fringe ratings have shown that heavy serialization and a mythology too complex for middle America result in nielsen viewers switching off. I thought the chemistry worked well between characters and the music, perhaps too heavy handed for some, actually in my eyes made a tepid scene more tension filled. I will be tuning in next week!

    January 18, 2012 at 11:07 am |
  11. morph147

    i think jack sylvane or however you spell his name will become a huge part of this show. idk why but just the way the second episode worked it seems like jack almost would be willing to help because he wants to know what happen to him too. ernast cobb's episode was more just showing that there are going to be lunatics in this hunt for the felons and they have to be ready for it.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:49 am |
    • Leaf on the Wind

      I think I caught the same nuances as you. While Sylvane was obviously given instructions and resources, it seems like Cobb was not. This hints, to me, that some of the episodes will be about the people behind the phenomena and their motives (like, what was the large key in the soft black bag and why did they want that guy dead?), and some episodes will be about catching the random killers and creeps that were perhaps accidentally swept up into this whole weird thing. I'm with you, I get the impression that Sylvane wants to know where he was all those decades.

      January 18, 2012 at 12:15 pm |
  12. Renait1

    Not getting invested in tihs one after the cheezy, cheap, lazy-assed way they ended Lost.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:37 am |
  13. Jenn

    But, alas, you forget... a good chunk of the first season of LOST focused on a different lostie each week. We had to learn all of their backstories one by one. Hopefully, the felon backstories end up being important because the felons play a future role in the series.

    January 18, 2012 at 10:09 am |
  14. Doanld Herrick

    I injoy the show and looking forward to the next,next and next show. I like all the cast member.

    January 18, 2012 at 9:55 am |
  15. binky42

    I never watched Lost, but I had to hear people complain for weeks about how they felt jilted at the end, because there really wasn't an end. The whole show was a big tease, with no payoff. Do people really want to put themselves through that again?

    January 18, 2012 at 8:44 am |
    • stan

      you must remember that only three eposide of "Lost" were ever made and just rerun over and over again,just as Gilligan's Island had been done years before.(yes,I am being sarcastic,I hated that show)
      Those who recognize good writing quickly "lost" interest ,those of a lower mental quality stayed with it hoping for something to happen or at the least be explained.The producers quickly learned that if you give morons something "shiny" to detract their attention,moron's will watch anything.Each week we were told that our questions will be answered,nothing was ever answered,because the writers,the producers,etc were just as "lost" as the viewers were.
      If they try and reproduce the same here with "Alacatraz" the viewers wiil be the one's who start disappearing.

      January 18, 2012 at 2:49 pm |
      • Leigh

        Wow Stan – if only we could all be as smart and in the know as you. Get over yourself.

        January 18, 2012 at 7:46 pm |